‘I Could Have Won On That!’

Tue, Oct 19, 2010

Betting Theory

‘I Could Have Won On That!’

It’s a familiar refrain when we witness a horse saunter to a victory with such ease that the jockey is merely a passenger during the race. Such was the manner of Timmy Murphy’s success on board the Liam Corcoran trained Macs Lad at Plumpton on Monday 18th October.

The horse had been very well backed following a late surprise jockey change, with amateur rider Lucy Horner apparently delayed in traffic top pilot Timmy Murphy was given the leg up.

It’s the latest example of a significant and positive jockey change, followed by good market support, followed by a very easy win. I’ve no reason to doubt that Ms Horner was genuinely delayed and it’s possible the market support was inspired by a jockey change born of nothing more than necessity.

Some though will point to other recent examples of similar events and suspect an attempt to artificially inflate the horse’s price. Certainly such strokes are known to be pulled (although I stress there is no evidence I’m aware of that this was what happened at Plumpton).

What is interesting from a betting point of view though is that in a hypothetical situation where one knows the horse to have so much in hand, why not just leave the lesser known jockey on board? The answer is of course that whilst punters and pundits might say ‘anyone could have won on that’ the trainers concerned clearly disagree. When the horse is ready and the money is down trainers tend to go to…well, to their ‘go to’ man.

What this tells us as punters is that trainers very often have chosen methods that they stick to when success is anticipated. They are similarly creatures of habit when success is not anticipated.

Keen analysts of statistics will know that jockeys can and do make a significant difference to outcomes. Some jockeys are much better than others in terms of strike rate, profitability, specialism or whatever judgement you care to use.

This is partly due to significant differences in terms of quality and competence between riders. Some riders are better than others and some are a lot better than others.

It is also due surely though to opportunity and to the requirements of the job in hand. The tendency of many trainers to book a certain jockey, or type of jockey, for some races for a particular horse and then use another jockey, or type of jockey, on other occasions should be potentially very informative for us as punters.

During the course of the 2010 flat campaign I’ve been cross referencing the ‘effectiveness’ of the chosen jockey with market support or lack of it. Time constraints have meant this has not been a scientific process and my results are far from statistically robust. What I have found though is that a close analysis of whether or not a jockey is actually statistically effective in a given situation, when combined with reference to the market points out a lot of horses that win or go close. Similarly the opposite applies with the combination of ineffective jockeys and lack of support usually presaging poor performance.

Now, the obvious explanation for such a situation is that when you feel your horse has a good chance you book the best jockey you can and the market follows. The actual relationship is much more subtle than that though. There are a good many very high profile jockeys who are not ‘effective’ (from our point of view as punters) in given sets of circumstances. There are also some very low profile jockeys who are extremely effective in the right circumstances.

Thus you may have a clear favourite ridden by a top rank jockey that is actually marginally weak in the market and where the stats suggest the pilot may not actually be the most effective choice in that situation. You can also have horses, with less well known riders on board, starting at 16/1, 25/1 etc but which are actually strongly positive in the market when referenced via the exchange price and so forth. There are exceptions, where an unpromising jockey booking is belied by strong market support and vice versa but generally the correlation between market analysis and booking is fruitful.

So, though it might be true that ‘anyone could have won on that’, we seldom get to test the theory as when success is anticipated and especially when the money is down no such chance will be taken.

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14 Responses to “‘I Could Have Won On That!’”

  1. Halfway To Nowhere Says:

    I presume, with larger stables generally retaining at least one jockey, that the theory tends to apply more to smaller yards, but how does it work out with someone like Mark Johnston?

    Historical data from Betfair seems to suggest that Johnston has either the biggest or second-biggest SP loss with horses drifting immediately before a race. With his rather scattergun approach – Waveband, for instance, has tackled everything from 5f on an easy course, to 7f on a stiff course, to 9f on an unconventional course and has encountered all of fast, good and soft ground – is it sheer fortune that the ‘right ones’ get backed and the ‘wrong ones’ drift, or is it a case of ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ rather than ‘always trying’?

    An interesting angle nonetheless.

  2. seanboyce Says:

    You’re right HtN that yards with very large numbers of runners but using only one or two jockeys are unlikely to manifest the same trends to the same extent. I’ve focused my attention so far on handicaps where I’ve found clear correlations between bookings and support and outcomes.
    As for M Johnston we may be witnessing sophistated view taking by the market rather than the effect of the efforts of a gambling yard? Looking on flatstats at his A/E (actual against expected) returns they are near identical whether his horses are in the front 1/3 of the market, the middle 1/3 or the bottom 1/3. This would suggest that the market gets them right at all points in the price range?
    Market strength or weakness of course does not need to emanate from the yard itself necessarily to be relevant. It can be the accurate distilation of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ too. Either way, as long as it’s relevant and useful that market data should be taken on board. There was a time when I would increase my stake if a horse I backed drifted. There are still cases for that approach in certain circumstances I think but I’m coming round to the idea that I’d be better off listening to the language of the market rather than ignoring it.

  3. R Hills is God Says:

    I think you might have stumbled on to the keys to the safe here Boycie.

    I don’t want to give too much away, in case other punters guess who I’m talking about. Let’s just say that a certain shrewd owner, whose colours are blue and white, has a go to jockey from a well-known racing family and you’d have absolutely cleaned up if you’d have backed him every time he’s been put up these past few years.

    As for Braveheart, I would have thought it was fairly obvious what was going on but again wouldn’t want to spell it out.

  4. ken cambs Says:

    ………. you’d have absolutely cleaned up if you’d have backed him every time he’s been put up these past few years.

    Big sigh….. the story of my life…..always arriving at the party just as the last bottle has been drunk. If only I’d known sooner, things might have been so very different. Oh well, such is life.

  5. robert99 Says:

    “Keen analysts of statistics will know that jockeys can and do make a significant difference to outcomes. Some jockeys are much better than others in terms of strike rate, profitability, specialism or whatever judgement you care to use.”

    A sad sinking to typical journalist cliché when he has no clue about statistics and no ability to even think about how any such stated proposition could be proved. Just concentrate on when the “cause” works and forget the hundreds of times it does not work. An it’s the story that counts attitude, not the truth. It puts away the gullible and feeble minded though, so serves some purpose.

    Actual in depth statistical investigations have only been able to prove a minor advantage from one jockey to another. Analysis proves that mostly all can do the job if they have the right horse also few trainers have a clue when their horse is going to be the right one and they have no knowledge of what the other “9″ competitors are about. Effect is not cause.

  6. ken cambs Says:

    Sorry if I find your comment rather maladroit, robert99 but personally I found Sean’s article particularly revealing. It wasn’t so much what he wrote but more the inference behind the words.

    Boycie was not, I think, necessarily pointing to finding winners but, possibly more significantly, highlighting the clear markers as to when a horse will not win.

    Armed with this insight, surely apprentices to the betting game would find this a useful adjunct to their betting skills, do you not think?

    It’s just my conclusion, but I reckon the vast majority of punters do not even begin to study the finer intricacies of betting and I’m sure that anyone offering help in this direction is to be warmly welcomed.

  7. seanboyce Says:

    Robert’s entitled to his views Ken.
    Rob is right that ’cause is not effect’; a drum that I’m pretty constantly banging myself on many matters!

    The piece is not intended to argue that ’cause is effect’ indeed it begins by arguing that it is not. I also acknowledge of course that my observations are neither ’scientific’ nor ’statistically robust’, a concession which makes some of Robert’s comments appear a little severe I guess.

    It is a ‘food for thought’ piece really based on a conflict between the position I’d traditionally held which is close to Robert’s that jockeys make little material difference and what I regard as some evidence that trainers disagree with that. I’ve moved my position. I’m much more willing now to consider qualitative and statistically significant differences in jockeys (I use flatstats for such research on the flat and use what stats are avaiblable elsewhere for NH). I’m also more willing to consider the signficance of trainers’ booking decisions and more willing to give weight to market indications than I ever used to be. It’s helped me but it won’t help everyone I’m sure.

    It’s not a thesis and I don’t quote any data. I’d be interested in Robert’s data though. Especially the studies which enable him to conclude-

    “Actual in depth statistical investigations have only been able to prove a minor advantage from one jockey to another. Analysis proves that mostly all can do the job if they have the right horse ”

    That would be a good read ;-)

  8. R Hills is God Says:

    The statistical studies I’ve seen suggest the jockey is very important indeed (eg it had the highest t-ratio of any factor in Bolton and Chapman’s paper).

    If Robert is referring to John Whitley’s ratings. The differences between the jockeys only appears small if your frame of reference is the ludicrous opinions (’stone superior’, ‘half a stone better’ etc) spouted by the gobshites in the press. He typically rates the top jockeys 1-1.5 lengths per mile better than the average. That is absolutely massive when converting to a tissue.

    I’d say there’s plenty in what Sean says. Have a look at when David Evans book his son, for example. He occasionally books him when he can’t even do the weight, when numerous other options who can do the weight are avialble. Take a wild guess how those beasts perfrom!

  9. Halfway To Nowhere Says:

    I may not have ‘won on that’, but I’m pretty sure I would have ‘placed on that’ had I been up instead of Jamie Goldstein. It’s true to say that Moonwolf would have been lumping a significantly bigger penalty than 7lbs were I on board, but that’s surely as clear-cut a case of non-trying as you’re likely to see?

    Did your research throw up anything interesting with respect to Jonjo O’Neill and Richie McLernon, Sean? I haven’t taken the time to look in to it, but there have been a couple of occasions where McCoy has failed to coax the best out of one of Jonjo’s nutters, only for McLernon to step up and guide them home next time (Space Telescope, for instance).

  10. ken cambs Says:

    If you think you could have steered Moonwolf into a place HTN then I reckon we should get you on a strict dieting regime ready to take on the likes of Hanagan and Hughes next season. I’m sure Boycie will sponsor you. Good luck.

    I can understand some of the criticism levelled at Mr Goldstein, though with the hindsight of his subsequent seemingly frank interview on ATR I’m far from convinced that this was necessarily a blatant ’stopping’ exercise.

    I suppose if the jockey really believes that, based on the horse’s medical history, if he tries too hard then the horse will bleed and stop running then perhaps it begs the question as to whether it should be flagged up with a punters’ health warning prior to the race.

    Bearing in mind that Jamie announced he is now Assistant Trainer for Sheena West perhaps in future this particular combination meet the hidden criteria referred to in this particular article of Sean’s?

  11. ken cambs Says:

    Macs Lad quickly turned out again today with Lucy Horner on board, provided of course she finds her way to Ludlow on time.
    Currently trading as favourite though based on her previous ride, held up towards rear and keen, not fluent 2nd and rider lost iron, soon unseated rider, I think I’ll be looking elsewhere, especially now that it has almost a stone extra to carry.
    I’d also be wary of Heezagrey bearing in mind that One More Dinar beat him by over 26 lengths when they last met.
    But what do I know?

  12. Halfway To Nowhere Says:

    I guess 7/4 just wasn’t big enough, Ken; another of Liam Corcoran’s to get absolutely leathered after winning easily.

  13. ken cambs Says:

    Thanks HTN for mentioning McClernon above. Just helped me to give him greater consideration when looking at Pistolet Blue.

  14. hayden Says:

    Some very interesting views above,my own being first find the horse and then worry about the jockey.Stats and trends can play a useful part in reaching a decision for a bet but i am always a little apprehensive of taking any at face value.

    Regarding jockey bookings and success rates if there is significance on occassions then thinking connections will attempt to disguise this,being aware of the wide availability of previous stats and the effect these may have on available prices.

    One area i would suggest being worthwhile studying is the use of claiming riders.Which trainers book them when and why ?.

    Another aspect worth considering is the booking of a female jockey i have noticed that often they will get a win from a “difficult”horse when named male jockeys have failed to.May be a case of the carrot working better than the stick ?.

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